TOTALLY WEIRD; STRANGE AND ENGAGING
THE WITCHING HOURS Series 2
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 4 Apr 2014 to 13 Jun 2014
[Fridays only (takes a break for Comedy Festival)]
Reviewed by Charlotte Simmonds, 5 Apr 2014
The first Witching Hours series was written solely by Uther Dean and in a ridiculously short space of time too. “Quick, cheap and disposable,” was how he described the radio plays. They may have been quickly written, and yes, with a price range of $0 to $10 they were and are pretty cheap, but they seem to have been anything but disposable, with the podcasts of the live show going on to have at last 700 downloads each; with some episodes hitting over 1,000. Not too shabby! It took me at least two years for my paparazzi photo of Naomi Watts' arse to clock up that many hits on Flickr!
The second series features many other writers who are not Dean and who all have a fair few decently quirky texts to their names already. In fact, Dean has only written a quarter of the scripts this time.
Tonight I saw Uther Dean's seventh radio play, Fire and Eyes, a hilarious futuristic-fantasy story about dragons who subsist on eyes while humans work the eye-farms that feed them in the interests (or should that be... disinterests?!) of world peace.
The story is purposefully packed with trope after trope and punchline after punchline and it seems that if you pack a story full of enough tropes and predictable plot turns, you get something that goes way beyond ripping off anything and transcends all this into the realm of the totally weird, some kind of alternate universe of script-writing.
Tragically, I did spot a missed pun opportunity (the endearing dragon Luciole, played by Hannah Banks, finds out she is a seer and then burns people alive with no mention of ‘seering'!) but there were plenty of others (prodragonist!) I would never have come up with myself.
What Uther has done with the first series is set a pretty solid tone that has certainly carried through to the second. That may be a presumptuous conclusion to jump to after having seeing only one of the scripts not written by Dean, but I have no doubt the same mood and atmosphere will continue throughout the season.
Adam Goodall's We Can Destroy It For You Wholesale is markedly not-by-Dean, yet still markedly The Witching Hours. It is not laugh a minute, and nor does it feel as though Goodall is fully at home yet in the blind medium of radio writing – there are clumsy workarounds to show what is taking place which are most certainly deliberately clumsy in the interests of humour, yet somehow end up just feeling clumsy to me – but the story is strange and engaging and set in Wellington and the very fabric of time is shredded before our ears, which is just what The Witching Hours sets out to do. And the ‘EP' concept of The Witching Hours means the format has plenty of room for trial, error, experimentation, success or slightly less success.
And my opinion is by no means anything more than an opinion: divided audience members were overhead quarrelling, “I liked the first one more,” and “I didn't, I liked the second.”
One nice thing about seeing The Witching Hours in the theatre as opposed to listening to them (and I find the two experiences to be vastly different) is being able to see a foley table operating. This could certainly be worked on and developed a lot. As the live audience we could see that the device being used to replicate the sound of a commercial bulk paper shredder was in fact a humble office paper shredder, but if I were listening to this on radio, I would have heard the noise of a vacuum cleaner and wondered what it was doing there.
I hope my accomplice will end up doing a lot more with their foley in future episodes. The fun thing about seeing foley live is, of course, those moments of, “That object makes that noise?!” (Uther eating grapes is a dragon eating eyes?)
All stories are narrated by Jonny Potts, Wellington's golden voice of radio as heard previously on Twitter Poetry Night NZ, The Kincaid Weekender and The Witching Hours series 1. Fire and Eyes and We Can Destroy It For You Wholesale are performed by Hannah Banks, Paul Waggott and Francesca Emms. Both Potts and Emms also have scripts being performed later in the series.
Tane Upjohn-Beatson records the performance and provides great keyboard incidentals that, especially when the story is reduced to sole audio, actually provide a hell of lot more storyline-related information than you might think.
I'm going to try and see the whole series and if you've only listened to the podcasts till now, it's worth seeing at least one show live just to compare to two experiences. The live shows are funding the free podcasts after all.
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